The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingman’s Dome is a sacred mountain to the Cherokees, where the “magic lake” was once seen. The Great Spirit told the Cherokees that “If they love me, if they love all their brothers and sisters, and if they love all the animals of the earth, when they grow old and sick, they can come back to the ‘magic lake’ and be made well again.”
For the Cherokees, these mountains have become a refuge, homeland, and a mythical and spiritual foundation for their people. During the Indian Removal Period of the 1800’s known as the Trail of Tears, the mountains meant safety from pursuing soldiers. Today these slopes provide a refuge and offer inspiration for visitors from a hectic modern society.
Clingman’s Dome at 6,643 feet is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and along the Appalachian Trail. It is also the most easily accessible mountaintop in the park. It is seven miles off of Hwy 441, Newfound Gap road, up to the parking area where you can park and hike up to the Observation Tower. The road is closed from November through March. It is a half-mile hike to the tower, which has a paved trail but is pretty steep. However there are plenty of benches to rest on and enjoy the beautiful views of the Smokies.
The temperature at Clingman’s Dome is normally 20 degrees colder than it is in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Cherokee so you might want to take a sweatshirt or jacket in the spring and fall and maybe even in the summer. There are restrooms available up from the parking area and plenty of places to have a picnic. Please use the trashcans after you are finished. Remember, trash kills bears!
The Observation Tower provides a panoramic view if the Great Smoky Mountains and on a clear day you can see over 100 miles. Air pollution, unfortunately, limits views to about 20 miles most days. Make sure to bring your camera because if you catch a clear day the views are spectacular!
As you hike to the tower, notice the dead trees along the trail, they were Fraser Firs, which only grow in the highest elevations of the Smokies. During the past 30 years a tiny insect that was accidentally introduced from Europe has destroyed over 70 percent of the mature Fraser Firs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The southern view from the tower on Clingman’s Dome allows you to see Cherokee, Fontana Lake and Andrews Bald in North Carolina. Looking west you can track the course of the North Carolina – Tennessee boundary. Through most of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the state boundary also marks the course of the Appalachian Trail, which passes just below the tower. The western view takes in Cades Cove, Thunderhead Mountain and Cove Mountain.
The northern view from the tower offers views of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Bluff Mountain, Newfound Gap and Mount LeConte. From the towers eastern view you can see Balsam Point, Big Cataloochee Mountain, Mount Pisgah and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States at 6,684 feet.
Make sure to make Clingman’s Dome a point of interest on your vacation in the Smokies. It is a beautiful 23-mile drive from Gatlinburg on Hwy 441 towards Cherokee. Pack a picnic and bring your camera for a fun filled day in the Smokies!